A review of Sam Harrison's recent exhibition
COCA (Centre of Contemporary Art), Christchurch
8 – 25 April 2009
Only a year after his first Fallen exhibition at CoCA Sam Harrison again filled the Mair gallery with his portraiture – both sculpture and woodcuts.
On closer inspection what appeared to be full size bronze figures were actually concrete, painted black and slightly burnished. A couple of works in natural grey were more explicitly concrete. I have a particular liking for work in ‘poor’ materials and I was very impressed with the fine casting in that medium. All were executed with a confident exuberance.
Surrounding the three dimensional figures were walls full of fluent woodcuts. These also were a delightful use of a basic material. The woody nature – knots and grain – was clearly discernable, while doubling as a suitable texture for flesh. This dual role was particularly operational in large areas of shadow, all skilfully handled.
Both woodcuts and sculptures gave a sense of old styles of art. However there were clues for viewers that they had not stepped back in time. ‘Black self-portrait’ had the naked artist wearing his watch and ‘Red Christ’ was seated on a clearly modern chair. Also, with or without any detailed knowledge of technique, the viewer would probably have a background awareness that photographic techniques were involved, without diminishing the impressive virtuosity of producing woodcuts of such scale and fluidity.
The most outstanding work was ‘The Lashing of Christ’ – a vast woodcut prominent on the end wall of the main gallery. This work gripped attention. It was a less recognisable subject than Harrison’s previous ‘Crucifixion’ (2008), resulting in more immediacy for a contemporary viewer. It could not be safely categorised as a religious work from the belief systems of a bygone era. At first glance one was simply drawn in as a bystander to a scene of unexplained violence.
Read the previous review on "Fallen I" by Warren Feeney in CS ARTS issue 31, October 2008
Reviewed and written by Janet Chambers
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